The hippocampus and medial temporal lobe structures are critically involved in spatial and episodic memory. Work in Dr. Knierim's laboratory attempts to understand the flow of information through the hippocampal formation and the computations performed by the various subfields of the hippocampus and its inputs from the entorhinal cortex.
To address these issues, he and his team use multi-electrode arrays to record the extracellular action potentials from scores of well-isolated hippocampal neurons in freely moving rats. These neurons have the fascinating property of being selectively active when the rat occupies restricted locations in its environment. They are termed "place cells," and it has been suggested that these cells form a cognitive map of the environment (O'Keefe and Nadel, The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map). The animal uses this map to navigate efficiently in its environment and to learn and remember important locations. It is also hypothesized that these cells play a major role in the formation of episodic (autobiographical) memories. Place cells thus constitute a tremendous opportunity to investigate the mechanisms by which the brain transforms sensory input into an internal, cognitive representation of the world "out there" and then uses this representation as the framework that organizes and stores memories of past events.
Although place cells have been studied for over 30 years, Dr. Knierim's laboratory is still in the initial stages of exploring and understanding these cells. The hippocampus is composed of anatomically heterogeneous subregions, but, until recently, place field studies have overwhelmingly focused on only a small portion of the hippocampus, the CA1 subfield. Using high-density recording techniques, the lab records simultaneously from multiple subfields of the hippocampal formation, or from portions of the hippocampus in concert with input structures such as the entorhinal cortex.
Lab Website: James Knierim Laboratory
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Monaco JD, Rao G, Roth ED, Knierim JJ. "Attentive scanning behavior drives one-trial potentiation of hippocampal place fields." Nat Neurosci. 2014 May;17(5):725-31. doi: 10.1038/nn.3687. Epub 2014 Mar 30.
Neunuebel JP, Knierim JJ. "CA3 retrieves coherent representations from degraded input: direct evidence for CA3 pattern completion and dentate gyrus pattern separation." Neuron. 2014 Jan 22;81(2):416-27. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.11.017.
Neunuebel JP, Yoganarasimha D, Rao G, Knierim JJ. "Conflicts between local and global spatial frameworks dissociate neural representations of the lateral and medial entorhinal cortex." J Neurosci. 2013 May 29;33(22):9246-58. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0946-13.2013. Erratum in: J Neurosci. 2013 Aug 7;33(32):13249.
Deshmukh SS, Knierim JJ. "Influence of local objects on hippocampal representations: Landmark vectors and memory." Hippocampus. 2013 Apr;23(4):253-67. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22101. Epub 2013 Feb 27.
Neunuebel JP, Knierim JJ. "Spatial firing correlates of physiologically distinct cell types of the rat dentate gyrus." J Neurosci. 2012 Mar 14;32(11):3848-58. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6038-11.2012.